9 Thoughts on Retaining New Athletes

Are you a club that desperately wants to find a new ways to keep your newest and youngest members? I have had some first hand insight into why we lose so many newbies in sport.

Here is a bit of background for you. My daughter is now 5, but was 4 when she started ballet. I only put her in ballet because she has be asking to do it for 2 years. I never did ballet nor do I know very much about it. After the year I have had I would not come back, BUT my daughter LOVES it. And my suffering is worth it.

So here is my advice to clubs.

  • Do not assume the parents of any of the kids in your program know anything about your sport. You need to talk to them to find out where they are at. Then YOU need to EDUCATE them. If I do not know your sport, I do not know what I need to know. Help me before I ask because I do not even know what to ask.
  • Just because my kid is little don’t alienate me from everyone else. I want to feel like I am apart of the club. I am sure my kid would appreciate it too. One day my daughter may want to be like the best dancers, soccer players, synchro girls in the club so expose us to them. CONNECT with us both. BUILD relationships with us. Don’t just be quick to take my money.
  • Never send out massive emails where I need to decipher what it means. If I do not know how your sport works, I am going to get confused. Make communication a simple and as easy to understand as possible. Never leave it up to me to figure out what it means. I’m new remember. It will also lessen the amount of time you spend answering the same questions over and over again. I also hate be told over and over again it is on the website. I’m new to your sport and I still don’t really get it.
  • If you are doing a workshop on say how to do hair at the beginning of the season, make sure you offer it again once the registrations are all closed. We needed to change ballet schools in one weeks notice and we missed all the tutorials.
  • Be really clear about what I need at practice. Do beginner soccer players need shin pads? Does my little swimmer need to where a nose plug, a cap? In ballet I assumed the hair needed to be well done, but I see pony tails. Set clear practice expectations. I’ll follow the rules if you tell them to me.
  • Explain to me how competition and performing works. Tell me as much as you can think of or get some veteran parents to come to practice one night and indulge me with their stories. I may even have a few questions that I can ask.
  • So what happens next year? What should I expect? Explain this to me early on in the season. Tell me to my face preferably. Please do not tell me to go to the website!
  • For me the fact my daughter loves the sport means I’ll figure it out for her no matter how frustrating it is, but the the other parents who won’t, you need to make them LOVE the sport. It might be an individual report card from the head coach to the parents. Perhaps social events. If the family loves it too they are more likely to stick around.
  • Hire amazing coaches and run a great program. This has been hit and miss in my daughters sports experience so far.

12650972_1018406208219862_4841977507380965889_nThese are my thoughts on being a disgruntled mother who has tried out several sports with my daughter and not found one organization that has made me not want to leave.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on what works well to retain athletes.

Yours in Synchro,


  1. Lisa on March 9, 2016 at 11:27 AM

    Hey Vanessa,
    At our synchro club, we host 3 mock competitions each season at our local pool during regular pool time on Sundays. This is great practice for our competitive teams, but we also include our precomp athletes and they do figures in front of panels and get to swim their routines. We have invited our recreational athletes to come out and observe. We are planning to include our recreational athletes in the mock competition next season. This gives the kids and parents the feel for a competition including hair, makeup, figures, routines, long days, etc. competitive parents in the stands reach out to new parents and answe questions too!

    • Vanessa Keenan on March 9, 2016 at 11:45 AM

      That is awesome. I bet the parents and swimmers find it really helpful.

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